Sunday, July 27, 2014

Late July Garden

 Not bad landscaping for $5, right?  A few packs of seeds (sunflowers and zinnias) and a little weeding and I have a bright, happy front flowerbed. Eventually I'd like this to become a beautiful herb garden but until then, this is an inexpensive fix.

 See the dragon fly?
 And the honey bee?  My backyard neighbor has 11 hives and his bees keep my garden very well pollinated.
 The past 2 weeks have become all about cucumbers and tomatoes. These are Tasty Jade... a Japanese style cucumber that is delicious and doesn't make me burp! Yay! The only issue I'm having with them is that they're extremely prolific and I'm harvesting about 20 of these 10-12" cucumbers every other day!

 I'm also harvesting pickling cucumbers (Harmonie) and all sorts of tomatoes.

 I'm trying to pay attention to the flavor of each variety so I can find our favorites to continue to grow them each year.  So far the heirloom varieties have been the biggest hits.

 This is the produce "delivery" I brought to my mom's house this week. I'm so happy to be able to share our produce.

 In the garden, everything is doing pretty well. I do need to remember to leave more room between rows next year.  I forget how big each plant can get.

 Look at how big the watermelons are getting!  These are Starlight.

 And these are Crimson Sweet (my all time favorite type of watermelon but I've never grown them before).

 Our pumpkins are doing well too.  This one is a Polar Bear pumpkin which can get huge and stays a pretty white.
 This pumpkin is a "Big Doris" pumpkin that will eventually be orange and is now the size of a basket ball so I can only imagine how big it will be when it matures.

 Cucumbers are coming out of my ears.

A new crop of summer squash from my new plants.  I had a 2 week break from figuring out what in the world to do with all the squash.  Luckily I'm ready for the challenge again.  Summer only comes once a year!

Here's the late July garden tour. I'm sorry for my dorky comments. It's like leaving an answering machine message... I never know that to say so I tend to ramble.

If you live nearby, please feel free to stop by for cucumbers and tomatoes anytime! I don't have my produce stand up right now because no one was stopping by. 

This post was shared on Homemade Mondays

Tuesday, July 22, 2014

A Back Yard Camp-Out

The weather has been unusually cool lately so Jon decided it was the perfect time for him to have a camp out with the kids in the back yard.  
They set up our smaller tent near the fire ring...
...and built a great, big camp fire.
We have the most lovely back yard neighbors.  Aren't these horses beautiful?  The little one in front is a very young horse. He loves to come to the fence to say hi.  

Polly and I visited the camp site for a while but opted to sleep inside.

Charlotte introduced Polly to bubbles.  She's looking for them after they've popped. Very confusing stuff.

They played flashlight tag in the dark and caught fireflies.  In the morning, Jon made them bacon and eggs over the campfire.  Jon, you're the best.  Charlotte and Evan are so lucky to have you as a dad!

Monday, July 21, 2014

The Best Coconut Cream Pie (Dairy Free)

In response to Jon's pleas of "PLEASE make pie!!" lately, I created the most wonderful coconut cream pies (if I do say so myself).  They're cool, sweet, and smooth without the addition of shredded coconut. The perfect summer dessert.  They happen to be dairy free but my family agrees that they're insanely good... dairy or no dairy.  I'm so sad they're gone. We ate them in record time. 

I blind baked my favorite crust recipe.... the pie crust recipe my mom always used and now my sister and I use. It's from the "big red cookbook" aka: "The Good Housekeeping Cookbook" circa 1973. The instructions are mine... based on a lot of trial and error.

Flaky Pastry (for two - 9" blind baked crusts)

2 cups all purpose flour (learn from my mistakes... don't use whole wheat)
1 tsp. salt (I like the salt in the crust but you can reduce this amount by half if you don't want the crust to taste slightly salty)
3/4 cup solid fat (cold butter, shortening, coconut oil at solid room temp*see notes below*)
5-6 Tbsp. of ice cold water

*Stir together flour and salt. Cut in the fat until the crumbs are smaller then garden peas (for butter and shortening) or the dough looks like cornmeal (coconut oil).  Add ice water and stir until dough starts to come together.
 *Turn dough out onto a floured surface and knead ONLY a few times to get the dough to come together. If the dough is falling apart, you need more water. If the dough is sticking to everything, you need more flour.  You want it to just hold together in a ball.
*Divide the dough in half and press it into round disks. Wrap disks in plastic wrap and refrigerate for 30-60. You want them cold but not solid.  If the dough is too cold and won't roll out, let it sit at room temperature for a few minutes.
*Roll out the dough on a floured surface and gently arrange in an ungreased pie plate. Don't stretch the dough when you put it into your pie pan because this will cause it to shrink when you bake it.  This recipe works best in regular pie pans... not deep dish (like I used in the pictures above). It's a little too small to fit nicely but you can fudge it if you roll it pretty thin.
*Put the crust back into the refrigerator for an hour. You want your crust as cold as they can get.
*Preheat the oven to 425*
*Line your pie crusts with parchment paper and fill with dried beans or pie weights.  Bake for 12-15 minutes or until the edges of the crust are golden brown.  Carefully remove the paper and the weights/beans and put the crusts back in the oven for 5-10 minutes or until the crust is golden brown all over.  Let cool fully while you make the filling.

*** I used coconut oil as the fat in the crust recipe... which can be tricky.  Usually in a crust recipe you want to refrigerate the dough before rolling it out. This would make the coconut oil bits rock hard and they would become a problem with rolling.  With coconut oil, I roll out the dough right after mixing the dough and refrigerate AFTER I put them in the ungreased pie plate.

Coconut Pastry Cream(aka: the filling for the pie)*Makes enough for 2 pies
*Before you start making the filling, go put an unshaken can of coconut milk in the fridge so it'll be ready for the topping later*

2 cans whole fat coconut milk (try to get the coconut milk without any thickeners or additives.  It's in the Asian foods section of most stores. Our Walmart carries 3 brands! The one I buy has only coconut milk and water as the ingredients.
12 egg yolks (freeze the whites for use another time)
1 cup sugar
1/4 cup corn starch
1/2 tsp. salt
1 tsp. vanilla
1/4 tsp. coconut extract

*Bring the coconut milk to a slight simmer over medium heat (just until bubbles are just forming around the edges.
*In a medium bowl, whisk together the egg yolks, sugar, cornstarch, and salt.
*When the coconut milk is at a simmer, add a ladle full to the yolk mixture, whisking constantly to prevent the yolks from scrambling.  Repeat this step another time or two until 2-3 ladle fulls of hot coconut milk have been whisked into the yolk mixture.
*Slowly pour the yolk mixture into the pan with the coconut milk WHISKING constantly!!  Continue whisking until the custard gets thick.
*Remove from heat and add the vanilla and coconut extracts. Stir well.
*Pour into the cooled pie crusts and cover with plastic wrap (touching the surface of the custard to prevent a skin forming)
*Refrigerate until cold (2-3 hours).

Coconut Cream Pie Topping 
1 cold can of coconut milk without thickeners or additives
2 Tbsp. honey (or light corn syrup if you don't like honey)
1/2 tsp. vanilla
1-2 drops of coconut extract

*Gently turn the can of cold coconut milk upside down and open the can with a can opener.  Carefully drain the coconut water from the can without disturbing the firm coconut cream that rose to the top.  Save the coconut water for smoothies or baking.
*Scoop the chilled coconut cream out of the can and into a mixing bowl.  Add honey and beat with an electric mixer with a whisk attachment for ~2 minutes or until it's creamy and slightly fluffy.
*Divide topping between the two cold pies and refrigerate again for another hour or so.  The longer it's in the fridge, the easier it will be to slice.

I coudln't wait that long so my filling was a little soft on this first slice but I didn't mind one bit because it was so completely delicious!

Sunday, July 20, 2014

Mid July Garden

I absolutely love my garden.  I love going out to see what's ready to harvest, what has grown overnight, what is done and needs swapping out for a new plant. This is going to be a year round garden so the season doesn't end with summer.  I've started mapping out my fall garden plan and I just planted my fall/winter carrot seeds. 
Evan is in charge of keeping the watermelon vines in the row. He's gotten good at gently picking up the unruly vines and moving them. Next year I'll have to give the watermelons more room to spread out.
We have baby watermelons!
I'm harvesting my pickling cucumbers now. I bought some pickling spice mix today so we can soon try making our own pickles. Kosher dill, of course. 

The corn is growing well.

This is our first Mr. Stripey tomato. It was almost 2 pounds! It's an heirloom variety and I'm so glad I have four Mr. Stripey plants. It's delicious. Very sweet and very low acid.  I'm not a huge fan of raw tomatoes unless they're on a sandwich but I love this type of tomato.

Here are the tomatoes that have started producing (from left to right)   Cherokee Purple, Roma, Juliet, Early Girl, and Super Sweet 100... and of course Mr. Stripey in the back.  I can't wait until all of the different varieties are producing.
The zucchini and squash plants were slowing down and I needed the space to be able to get to the tomato plants more easily so I took them out.
So much easier to reach tomatoes now.  This week I'll roll up the plastic and save it for next year. The black plastic worked so well and I definitely plan to use it again next year.

Charlotte loves harvesting carrots.  Polly takes the tops from her and plays with them in the aisle after Charlotte separates it from the carrot.
Evan helped me with the onions.  The weeds got away from me and by the time I could deal with it, they were too big to remove. I would have damaged the onions taking out the weeds. So, I lost a good many onions to rot but luckily I still have plenty.
The onions from sets are on the far left and the two piles to the right are from onion plants.  The plants far out performed the sets.

Evan took these pictures of our wild morning glories. I love this picture of his hand and the flower.
It's too bad the morning glories are constantly trying to take over our garden because they are so beautiful.

Our fig tree has bounced back from it's frost damage and severe pruning quite well. The tree is now short enough for me to reach the branches. There are small fruits forming now.

This side of the garden will be the first to get fall vegetables planted since everything has either been harvested or will be harvested very soon.  So far I have planted more carrot seeds and rutabagas.

This side of the garden is just getting going. Tomatoes, cukes, melons, all kinds of winter squash, many kinds of corn.... so exciting!
Here's a panoramic picture. If you click on it, it should enlarge the picture.
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